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Tips for Engaging Students in Science

Thanks to its partnership with publisher Eye on Education, EducationWorld is pleased to present this family event idea from Family Science Night: Fun Tips, Activities, and Ideas by Shelley Connell. Family Science Nights are a wonderful way to engage children in hands-on science when there isn't enough time during the school day. They cultivate creativity, imagination, and innovation. This article lists three characteristics to keep in mind when planning a successful Family Science Night for your school.

Kids like to have fun! Child development research has shown that certain experiences are highly beneficial for young children, evoking feelings of happiness, comfort and ultimately, fun. Some of the best experiences children can have are when they:

  • explore, create and respond to things;
  • imagine, express their feelings and use the five senses;
  • observe, compare and classify;
  • acquire facts, make patterns and recall information; and
  • take pride in their accomplishments.

In order to make sure that children are having the best possible experiences, at least three characteristics should be included at each Family Science Night station to engage elementary students and their families in hands-on science:

  1. Display simple instructions for parents and children to follow.
    Each Family Science Night station should position parents to easily lead and engage their children in the activity it features. Taking time to ensure parents are properly empowered to engage their children in each activity is crucial because, in essence, they play the role of the “museum guide.” If the parents do not know what to do, chances are the children will not either—at least not to the extent the organizer wishes. The children may still be inclined to touch and interact with the station activities, but not with the same level of engagement and understanding that would result if parents were properly equipped with station instructions that were simple and easy to follow.
  2. Display questions to encourage discussion between parents and children.
    Getting kids to ask questions is an easy thing to do. It’s part of their natural curiosity. As Kimberly Brenneman (2009) of Rutgers University suggests, children naturally look for answers to questions about their surroundings by interacting with it so they can learn more about it. Depending on the station, parents can ask their child simple yet inquisitive questions like: Which planet is the largest? Which planet is closest to the sun? Or: How many trace fossils did you find? Where do you think people can find trace fossils?

    The key point to stress to parents would be that the questions they ask do not have to be questions that have a right or wrong answer. They just need to be questions that get kids to open up about what they’re thinking about the activity. When questions that do have a right or wrong answer come up, like 'How do boats float?', parents can always keep a list of questions that arise from Family Science Night and research the answer at home, in a library, or through a book or computer that’s available at the event.
  3. Provide a list of simple activities parents and children can explore at home.
    A well-organized and executed Family Science Night is an excellent venue to excite young children about science, further knowledge and connect their parents to science standards. Yet the fun and learning should not stop there; it should continue at home. Consider giving families a short list of activities they can do at home to extend their Family Science Night activities.

    Family Science Night has to be loads and loads of fun—otherwise it’s pointless! There are certain experiences child development research has shown to be highly beneficial for young children because they evoke feelings of happiness and a high level of comfort. Make the stations you plan for your Family Science Night a whole lot of fun.


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